In what is seen as a major setback for Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner ‘Victory Front’ her candidate to governor of the country’s fourth most important electoral district, Santa Fe came in third with just 22.2% of the votes at Sunday’s provincial election.
With more than 90% of votes accounted Progressive Front candidate Antonio Bonfatti is the winner of the Santa Fe province gubernatorial elections, with 37.14% of votes. Maverick candidate Miguel del Sel, with the support from Buenos Aires City Mayor PRO followed closely with 36.6% of votes, while Kirchnerite candidate Agustín Rossi came in third, with 22.3 percent of votes.
Bonfatti will replace Socialist ally Hermes Binner and will rule the province for the next four years. Binner is bidding for the Argentine presidency next October and is the main candidate facing President Cristina Fernandez in her re-election effort.
More than two million Santa Fe residents (out of 2.4 million registered) turned out to vote for their new Governor, provincial deputies, senators, mayors and town councils, with the single ballot system.
Miguel Del Sel's proved to be one of the big surprises of Santa Fe politics. The comedian began his political activism five months ago, when PRO party leader Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri (and 2015 presidential hopeful) made him an offer to run as gubernatorial candidate, despite his lack of experience in the subject.
Del Sel’s attempt was rewarded with a whooping 36.6% encouraging him to anticipate he would remain in politics to support Macri President in 2015.
From Santa Fe headquarters Governor Binner called for “shelving tensions” in Argentina and insisted that “Santa Fe is the only province that has not gone on its knees before the federal government”. Binner also stressed the importance of the agriculture industry to the economy and called for improving the situation of farmers, which has been a major controversial issue during the campaign.
The Kirchner administrations long standing dispute with farmers over export taxes, which ended in a major defeat for the government in July 2008, had one of its focal resistance points in the province of Santa Fe, a rich intensive farming province with a strong agriculture equipment manufacturing base.
Quite distant from the “rich landowners’ oligarchy that have made millions planting the weed called soybean” as Santa Fe farmers were described by Cristina Fernandez at the time in what proved to be a major political blunder.
Furthermore in the last days of the campaign Mrs Kirchner showed up in the province of Santa Fe in support of lawmaker Rossi and got involved in an unnecessary controversy with Governor Binner, regarding the rate of growth of Santa Fe compared to other fully Kirchnerite provinces.
The controversy was followed up by the Kirchner bunker appealing to offensive language, insults and accusations of liar, against Binner.
But Binner has a good record as governor and is much respected for his prudence and calm, never raising his voice and infinite patience since he has had to rule with a provincial congress where he has no majority. The attacks on Binner were interpreted as an offence to Santa Fe voters.
To make things worse, two weeks before voting day, Senator Carlos Reutemann, a former governor and historic head of the traditional Peronist party in Santa Fe, plus a strong supporter of farmers, publicly stated that he was a Peronist, but certainly not a ‘Kirchnerite’ and respected but did not support the so-called ‘Kirchnerite’ development model.
This also helps to partly explain the success of the maverick candidate Migule del Sel. Contrary to what happened with the gubernatorial race, Peronist and Kirchnerite candidates for the provincial congress apparently were the most voted, meaning loyalty to the party remains strong but in open rejection to President Cristina Fernandez and her governor hopeful, Augstin Rossi.
Conceding victory Rossi admitted he expected to perform better in the elections and stressed that he is the sole responsible of the electoral results.
“With the same humbleness and serenity of two months ago, when won the primaries, today we salute those who have been elected and are winners of those elections,” Rossi said.
“In the Victory Front we worked during all the campaign to achieve a better election than we did. I’m the sole responsible of the election’s result. I respect those who voted other political parties. I believe we have to learn from negative results.”
“As from tomorrow, from the place in which I should be, we will work for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s triumph in the October elections” he concluded.